Three games in three days, with two wins and one loss saw Escalon’s varsity basketball boys bring home third place honors from the holiday week Livingston Tournament.
They opened up the tournament with a 59-57 victory over Central Valley on a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Jack Anderson in the Tuesday, Dec. 28 contest.
“We faced them 11 days prior and lost a tough one point battle without Russ Weinbrecht and Donovan Rozevink out due to injuries. We didn’t play that well in this game, but made some plays down the stretch, highlighted by Jack’s clutch shot,” noted head coach Nate Bartelink. “It didn’t seem like we’d get off a quality look while taking the ball out of bounds just past half court with about four seconds left and no timeouts left. Jack caught the inbound pass from Donovan Rozevink, navigated through the defense and made the shot while falling to the floor. He’s a shot maker and it’s no surprise he made that shot.”
The opening round contest was tight all the way through; Escalon with a 15-13 edge in the first quarter and the same in the fourth, while Central Valley held the scoring edge in the second quarter, 18-17, and third 13-12.
Weinbrecht had 20 points, including a trio of treys, along with 11 rebounds. Jack Anderson had 11 points, also with three 3-point shots; Ben Fletcher, 10 points; Logan Anderson, eight points; Donovan Rozevink, five points and 13 rebounds.
On Wednesday, Dec. 29 the Cougars lost a tough battle against Calaveras 55-54.
“We played them three weeks ago and beat them in overtime. They are a playoff team so we knew we’d be in another battle,” Bartelink said. “Calaveras plays almost exclusively zone, which at times takes away our aggressiveness on the offensive end. Russ got in foul trouble in the third quarter, sending him to the bench, allowing Calaveras to get a double digit lead.”
Because Calaveras only has two offensive threats, Bartelink said his team then went to a triangle and two defense, trying to fully deny their two best players, while playing a three man zone behind them to protect the basket.
“It worked well, as it seemed to throw off Calaveras a bit and we got hot on our offensive end. We went on a couple runs in the fourth quarter, highlighted by two 3-pointers each from Jack Anderson and DeSean Owens, allowing us to take a three point lead with 1:30 to play.”
But the team did not finish the game well, turning it over four times in their last five possessions.
“Calaveras capitalized on our mistakes to finish on a 4-0 run to end the game. We executed a play on our last good possession, but Jack Anderson’s shot just rimmed out,” added the coach. “I was proud of how we played to get back into the game after falling behind in the third quarter, but it was very disappointing to end the game the way we did. We need to be better in critical moments of close games if we are going to have success in league and the playoffs. Hopefully we learned a lesson and can avoid similar mistakes in the future.”
Weinbrecht again paced the team with 29 points (six 3’s) and made a lot of tough shots in the contest, while Jack Anderson had 11 points (three 3’s) and DeSean Owens added eight.
Thursday’s game, Dec. 30, brought the Cougars their third rematch in three games as they played Ceres again, after playing them in late November.
“We came out on top this time 62-36 and won third place. Calaveras won the championship. Ceres was missing one of their best players, but I don’t think it would’ve mattered this time,” Bartelink said. “We came out inspired after a tough loss the night before against Calaveras. Our defense played with the appropriate amount of effort and intensity, making things difficult for Ceres. Logan Anderson had a huge impact with his activity and rebounding. Russell was a one man wrecking crew on the offensive end.”
Weinbrecht had 19 points in the first half alone – the same as the Ceres team total – and ended up with 36 for the contest, the same as the full team total for the Ceres squad.
Adding five points apiece in the win were Jack Anderson, Owens and Cam Ruiz.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Weinbrecht made a free-throw to earn his 1,000th career varsity point.
“Players joining the 1,000 point club is very rare. Before Brenden Holmes accomplished it last season, it had not been done at Escalon High School in more than 20 years,” Bartelink said. “Russ is a three-year varsity starter, has averaged more than 17 points per game, and would have hit 1000 points late last season or very early this season if his junior season wasn’t cut short due to COVID. We have been fortunate to have Russell as a member of our basketball program. He is a major reason that we have turned the corner as a program and are now experiencing success again. It has been an honor to be a small part of his journey.”
Weinbrecht was named to the All-Tournament team after averaging 28.3 points, nine rebounds, and four 3-pointers per game during the tourney.
“Russell being able to score that many points is a credit to the amount of work he is put in over the years. There is no shortcut to the success that he has had,” explained Bartelink. “It is strictly through hard work. He is an excellent example of what can be accomplished if you put in the time and effort. He and Brenden have re-established the foundation that this program is built upon.”
Varsity ended the holiday tournament with an overall record of 9-5, ranked No. 9 in the MaxPreps CIF SJS Division IV rankings.
The Cougars were also looking forward to senior Joey Fross joining them for game action starting on Monday, Jan. 3. He has had to sit out thus far this season due to CIF SJS transfer rules.
“He has been able to practice with us all season so I anticipate the transition will be fairly smooth,” Bartelink said. “He is a very talented basketball player, has played a lot of high level basketball over the years and will benefit us tremendously the last half of our season and into the playoffs.”
Trans-Valley League play begins for the Cougars with a home game against Riverbank on Wednesday, Jan. 5 and then travel to Ripon Christian on Friday, Jan. 7.
“We are looking forward to the opportunity in front of us. I’d encourage people to come check us out,” said Bartelink.